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Archive for the ‘ecclesiology’ Category

What is The Church By RC Sproul

R.C. Sproul. What is the Church?  Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, October 7th, 2013. 82 pp.

            I picked this book out to go over for a study for a small group since I wanted to review the basics of ecclesiology that was concise and Reformed.  I was also hoping to glean from this book anything helpful as I was also preparing to preach for a retreat on the topic of the church.  The author R.C Sproul is someone I esteem very highly and he is more than capable in writing on this topic.  However I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed with this particular book even though I found his other works in his Crucial Question Series to be quite helpful.  This short book has nine chapter in which some of them could have been made into one.  For instance I felt the first two chapters could have been combined together.  Some of the chapters were so short that I was surprised to find I was done with them even though I was just getting started!  There were some chapters that didn’t have a single Bible verse in support of the discussion.  Sproul has a chapter on the servants of the Lord and I wished he could have addressed the topic of serving in the church more practically.  Upon further reflection after completing the book I think the book as a whole could have been more practical.  Sproul did have a helpful discussion in his final chapter about the marks of a true church.  I agree with Sproul that a true church must preach the Gospel but I had a harder time with Sproul’s position that an essential element of a true church include the fact that it must practice church discipline.  Now don’t get me wrong I believe in the importance of the local church carrying out discipline but I do think it is possible that a church struggle to implement church disciple and still remain a church.  In the end I would still say this book is still worth getting despite the drawbacks I’ve mentioned although I would also encourage people to read other works on the church alongside this book.  Given how Sproul has made this book and others like it in the Crucial Question series free on Kindle, what’s holding you back?

Purchase: Amazon

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In our series on “Missions, Culture and Being Biblical,” we have noted some of the problems with the missions method known as the Insider Movement.  We have pointed out their faulty theology of religion and faulty theology of culture.  Here we also want to focus on the Insider Movement’s faulty ecclesiology.  We will be examining two “case studies” that is found in the fourth edition of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement : A Reader.

Perspective on the Worldwide Christian Movement

These two articles are:

Lewis, Tim and Rebecca. 2009. “Planting Churches: Learning the Hardway” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 690-693.

Guzman, Andres and Angelica. 2009. “Ourselves as Servants: Latin American Workers in the Middle East.” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 700-702.

The reason why I want to focus on these case studies is because of the fact that it is one thing to see theoretical disucssions about how to do missions in missiological journals but it’s another thing to see reports of what is actually being done.  In the end, we don’t want merely “what works,” lest we fall into pragmatism but we must test all things and see if they are Scriptural.

I also picked the first article because Rebecca Lewis is one of the leaders of the Insider Movement.

Both articles are written by couples who work among Muslims.

After describing their missionary efforts, Andres and Angelica Guzman reported the fruit of their effort to reach Muslims in the Middle East:

Through all of this, several of our friends decided to become followers of Jesus.  Some (not encouraged by us) decided to follow him as Christians and some (through their own choice) decided to follow Jesus while remaining religiously Muslim.  Most decided to say outside established of religious institutions, simply calling themselves ‘believers.’ (Guzman, 701).

What is unfortunate to read here is that some of these “followers of Jesus” “decided to follow Jesus while remaining religiously Muslim.”  Even more discouraging is how both missionaries didn’t see any concern with this.  Sadly “most decided to stay outside established religious institutions, simply calling themselves ‘believers.'”  Is it alright as believers “to stay outside established of religious institutions” and just call themselves believers?

An important institution that God set up for true followers of Jesus Christ is the church.

In the first New Testament reference to the church, Jesus promised that the church will be something He will build and will last: “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).

Every believer ought to be part of the church, which is also known as the body of Christ.  As Paul told the believers in 1 Corinthians,

  • “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
  • “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

Given that the church is something that Hades will not prevail over, and is something every believer ought to be a part of,  Andres and Angelica Guzman’s method and practices in the missions field fall short of Biblical standard.

The problem with the Insider Movement understanding of the church seem to go deeper than that when we read the report by Rebecca and Tim Lewis.  In writing about their missions effort they wrote:

A church was born within a natural community without creating a new group just for fellowship.  It reminded us of something Ralph Winter had said: ‘The ‘church’ (in the sense of being a committed community) is already there, they just don’t know Jesus yet!'” (Lewis, 693).

Both Tim and Rebecca ought to be commended for their strategic effort in reaching out to people in the context of their community.  However, when it comes to what the church is, their agreement with Ralph Winter is problematic.  First off, to see the church as merely a committed community is biblically unsatisfactory.  By definition, the church must be committed to it’s head Jesus Christ.  Church is not merely a community.  Secondly, the concept of “church” as a community that have yet to know Jesus is lacking in Biblical precedence.  Sure, there are God’s elect who have not come to faith yet but no where do we see the Bible describe them as already part of the church before their knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I believe if advocates of the Insider Movement would see more of what the Bible has to say about the church there might be less of this direction of believers still being able to retain their previous religion and attend their previous religious institution.

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19 Gifts of the Spirit

 Available on Amazon

I am sure that I am not the first to notice the irony of how today’s discussion about spiritual gifts provoke much debate and division over the “sign gifts” when the Bible teaches that all spiritual gifts are for the edification and the unity of the Church as a whole.  Not that I’m against these discussions and debates—one must study the issue biblically and come away with some kind of conviction while intelligently disagreeing with the other side.  But for some, the only spiritual gifts they know (or think they know) are tongues, prophecy and healing.  If you want to understand spiritual gifts beyond the debate of whether or not sign gifts are for today, here is a practical book that you might find beneficial.

I don’t much about the author beforehand but he appears not to be a Charismatic/Pentecostal and is more of a Cessasionist.  Nevertheless Charismatics will benefit from this book also.  He covers nineteen spiritual gifts (the title of the book gives that away) in which he explains what the gifts are, examples of such gifts practiced in the Bible or in church history and also some word of what the practical application of the gifts looks like.  The book is geared towards Christians understanding and identifying their spiritual gifts (the author even devoted one whole chapter towards the end of the book of how to identify one’s spiritual gifts).  He breaks down these spiritual gifts into three main categories which the book addresses in the following order:  speaking, serving and sign.  I thought it was wise of the author to present them in that order, with the speaking being foundational for the rest since it involves communicating the Word of God.  Also, it puts the most controversial last, which avoid instantly turning off any hyper-sensitive continuationists.  I think for the most part, most continuationists would agree and find the bulk of the author’s exposition on the speaking and serving gifts non-controversial.

I enjoyed reading the book for my own edification.  Given past experience of hearing people teach on this subject (some can be so quick to jump to the application of spiritual gifts without understanding what it means first) I was pleasantly surprised at how the author handled Bible verses in an informed manner that gave justice to the text.  I also recommended this book to a brother in my church who was working on a lesson outline on spiritual gifts as part of a larger church membership class.  This book was just the right fit, being biblical, non-technical, and practical.

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10784076

Available on Amazon

It is a small book on the controversial topic of church discipline. The strength of this book is that it is clear, direct and Biblical. Both Pastors and church members will benefit from reading it. The author begins with startling statistics of the large percentage of Pastors and church leaders who confess of neglecting the practice of church discipline. As the rest of the book demonstrates, the Bible is not vague on church discipline, which is described and prescribed in the Bible. I appreciate how early in the book the author stated the main objective of church discipline is restoration and not punishment. I also appreciate how the book deals with the major objection against church discipline, with the charge that we are not to judge others. The apologist within me is quick to point out the self-defeating nature of such an objection, but the author takes the more pastoral route in his response by showing from Scriptural data of when it is right and proper to judge, and when it is not right to judge. Again, this is very helpful. While some of the book’s interaction with the Biblical author can be gain from other books that touches on church discipline (typically within volumes on ecclesiology), I found this book to be uniquely helpful with its discussion on the parameter of sins that leads to church discipline, what the biblical evidence of repentance looks like and the need for forgiveness in the restoration process. For those who are unfamiliar with what the Bible has to say about church discipline, this should be the first stop.

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